More than one in four women under the age of 50 have been the victim of domestic violence, new research suggests.
And around one in seven (13 per cent) – up to 492 million women worldwide – has suffered violence at the hands of a male partner within the past year, according to the largest ever study of its kind.
Estimates from a global database of surveys conducted between 2000 and 2018, published in The Lancet, indicate that 27 per cent of women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
Evidence suggests that domestic abuse starts early with 24 per cent of women aged 15 to 19 having experienced violence from an intimate partner at least once. The study used figures from the World Health Organisation Global Database on the Prevalence of Violence Against Women, which covers 90 per cent of women worldwide in more than 160 countries.
It aims to provide estimates for intimate partner violence against women on global, regional, and country-wide levels.
In 2013, WHO published the first global and regional estimates on the prevalence of physical and sexual intimate partner violence, and non-partner sexual violence with existing survey data up to 2010, finding that one in three women experience physical and/or sexual violence from partners and non-partners.
The new study used improved quality of data and updated methods to provide current prevalence estimates of intimate partner violence around the world, up to and including the year 2018.
The analysis reveals that governments are not in line to meet targets for eradicating violence against women.
Study senior author Claudia García-Moreno, of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said: “Whilst progress has been made in the past 20 years, it is still grossly insufficient to meet the SDG target for eliminating violence against women by 2030.
“Intimate partner violence affects the lives of millions of women, children, families and societies worldwide.
“Although this study took place before the Covid-19 pandemic, the numbers are alarming and research has shown the pandemic exacerbated issues leading to intimate partner violence such as isolation, depression and anxiety, and alcohol use, as well as reducing access to support services.
“Preventing intimate partner violence from happening in the first place is vital and urgent. Governments, societies and communities need to take heed, invest more, and act with urgency to reduce violence against women, including by addressing it in post-Covid reconstruction efforts.”
The research team said that because estimates in the study were based on women’s self-reported experiences and given the sensitive and stigmatised nature of the issue, the true prevalence of violence women are subjected to by an intimate partner is likely to be even higher.
Study lead author Dr Lynnmarie Sardinha said: “The high number of young women experiencing intimate partner violence is alarming, as adolescence and early adulthood are important life stages when the foundations for healthy relationships are built.
“The violence these young women experience has long-lasting impacts on their health and well-being. Intimate partner violence is preventable and more needs to be done to develop and invest in effective community and school-based interventions that promote gender equality and reduce young women’s risk of being subjected to violence from a partner.”
Regional variations revealed that the lifetime prevalence of intimate partner violence among women aged 15 to 49 was highest in Oceania (49 per cent), and Central Sub-Saharan Africa (44 per cent).
The regions with the lowest lifetime intimate partner violence prevalence estimates were Central Asia (18 per cent), and Central Europe (16 per cent).
Overall, high-income countries had lower estimated prevalence rates of both lifetime and past-year intimate partner violence.
Ms García-Moreno added: “These findings confirm that violence against women by male intimate partners remains a global public health challenge.